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What the Greatest Graphic Artists Have to Teach Us

The most influential and celebrated graphics designers not only revolutionized the field in some unique way, but also managed to distill their work and design theory into simple, pragmatic statements. These “mottos” still very much serve us today as valuable learning lessons. Anyone currently working in, or aspiring to enter, the graphic design field should take note of the important direction they give. Timeless, and often deceptively simple in their nature, here are the top four most insightful quotes passed down by the all-time greats.

1) “Strive for new techniques” – Jan Tschichold. This may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but how often do we fall into a mundane, repetitive plateau when it comes to work? As with anything, it’s easy for designers to learn and want to stick to their familiar methods and techniques. It might also be tempting to develop a recognizable style and stick to that style at all costs. But, if Tschichold’s quote conveys anything, it’s that change is at the heart of all progress. As soon as you stop learning and striving to develop new techniques and skills, you risk falling behind not only external trends, but your own development as a designer and artist.

2) “Pair strong meaning with your designs” – Jacqueline Casey. Great design drives people to action. That’s even more true when your design has a strong meaning behind it. Casey was the genius behind the give blood donation adverts, so she clearly understood the importance of strong design for a crucial campaign. Even if your mission isn’t a matter of life or death, you can still create an image that will communicate a message at a single glance. After all, that’s what great graphic design is all about – delivering a message behind the image.

3) “Bridge the gap between seeing and understanding” – Milton Glaser. Going along with Casey’s sentiment, Milton Glaser understood that the viewers’ perception of your art and their understanding of it is at the heart of successful design. Symbolism runs very deep within the human psyche, so it’s understandable that powerful design taps into that. When you see the Target logo, which Glaser created, you recognize on a conscious level that you’re driving past a familiar store, but the design behind the logo and the symbol it represents both run much deeper.

Take, for example, the definition, or the meaning behind a target. It represents an aim, a desire as well as its attainment. Going even further, the symbol of a circle that is represented in the Target logo universally stands for the idea of wholeness and completion. On a subconscious level all of these layers of the symbol factor into your ultimate understanding of the logo and its meaning.

4) “Design with passion” – Colin Forbes. It’s easy to grow out of touch with our passions – especially when it comes to maintaining it on a professional level. That is often the case in graphic design – a career in which only about 30% remain within the field after 5 years of entering it. Colin Forbes’s call to rekindle your passion for design is a simple one, yet probably the most difficult to achieve. Approaching each design and challenge through the lens of curiosity can certainly help, but it’s ultimately up to you to keep the flame of passion alive in your work.


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